A Pittsburgh area man recently learned the hard way that some judges expect Pennsylvania citizens to take their civic duty to serve on a jury very seriously. The man had reported to the local county courthouse to be considered as a possible juror on a homicide trial. According to a Pittsburgh Tribune article, the man asked the assistant district attorney handling the prosecution of the case how long he must remain at court. Upon being told that his subpoena was effective until 4:30 in the afternoon, the man responded that this was "a waste of his time." The man owned a local pizza business, and I suspect that he, like most other business owners, spends long hours at the office. Missing a day of work is not a small thing. Instead of sucking it up and performing his civic duty, the man tried to have himself removed from the jury pool by answering questions in a manner to have himself struck. The straw that broke the camel's back was probably when the man happened to be standing close to the defendant, and the potential juror asked the defendant "did you do it."
The man's actions were clearly intended to have him removed from the jury panel, most likely so he wouldn't have to miss more work by attending a trial. While the man was able to have himself removed from the jury pool, he didn't realize that he would be removed and then taken to the county prison. The presiding judge felt that the man's actions were unacceptable, and the man was taken into custody by the sheriffs and taken to the county jail. Eighteen hours later, the man was brought back to court, in handcuffs, and he was apologetic to the judge. He admitted that his actions were unacceptable and did not truly evidence his character.
Jury Duty Is Important Civic Duty - Freedom at Stake
As a small business owner myself, I can empathize with the man. There is no one at my office that does my work for me. I have a phenomenal paralegal that is of tremendous assistance, but she performs her tasks and the office tasks. If I am away from the office, I need to perform the work at some other time by either working late or working on the weekend.
However, the man needs to understand that a person who is charged with a criminal offense has a constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. A person has a civic duty to participate in the jury trial system. Before a trial commences, the judge actually tells the jury that they "are about to perform one of the most serious duties of citizenship." The judge goes on to explain that the jury is "going to decide whether a fellow person, the defendant, is guilty of a crime charged by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania." The jury's role in the system is to determine guilt or innocence, and it is the judge's role to determine the appropriate sentence or punishment if the person is found guilty.
Constitutional Rights and Duties
Regrettably, some people do not take participation in the jury trial system seriously. They do not stop to consider that their decisions will have a life-long impact on the person charged with a criminal offense. A person that is convicted faces an immediate punishment from the judge in the form of possible jail time, probation, fines, and costs, and possibly a suspension of a driver's license. There are also indirect effects, such as the loss of a job due to the loss of the license, the inability to get a new job because of the criminal record, and the loss of a house because the person cannot pay his rent or mortgage without a job. As U.S. citizens, we enjoy many rights and privileges that are set forth in our Constitution, but we also have obligations, such as participation in the jury trial system, that we must also take seriously because someone's life and freedom depends upon it.